NYSBA State Bar News nameplate

January/February 2014, Vol. 56, No. 1

Judicial Section Profile

Helping judges make a difference for judiciary across the state

Rachel KretserBy Hon. Rachel Kretser

Formed in 1924, the Judicial Section is the oldest section in the State Bar. With a membership of more than 300 dedicated judges at all levels of the judiciary, the section is a vibrant part of the association. 

It is a tremendous honor to chair the section that is the voice of the judiciary in the State Bar. I am pleased to report that, together, we have accomplished much during the first half of my tenure.

First section newsletter

The section’s premier newsletter has launched. The Judicial Dispatch promises to be the independent voice of the judiciary in New York state. It is the only newsletter written by judges for judges, encompassing all courts of record statewide. We are grateful to have state Supreme Court Justice Deborah Karalunas, Commercial Division, Onondaga County, serve as our editor.

New award established

Last June, the Executive Committee voted unanimously to establish the annual Distinguished Jurist Award.  Created to honor a jurist who embodies the highest ideals of our section, exemplifies judicial excellence and an extraordinary commitment to the rule of law, the award will be presented at the section’s 2014 Annual Luncheon on January 31 during the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in New York City.

Increased national presence

We have made substantial progress toward our goal of increasing the section’s presence at the national level. Our section drafted a position paper on American Bar Association (ABA) resolutions 108 and 18-B relating to judicial disqualifications arising from campaign contributions.  

The ABA House of Delegates tabled its debate on the issue in August, partly due to opposition from our section. Proponents of the resolutions have pledged to work with the judiciary on a more realistic and workable mechanism to address this issue. 
As a newly appointed delegate to the ABA’s National Conference of State Trial Judges, I will work to ensure that the voice of New York judges continues to resonate nationally.

Diversity analysis of judiciary

As initial statistics reveal a lack of diversity in many judicial districts, particularly upstate, the section will conduct a comprehensive statistical analysis of the judiciary’s racial and gender composition and compare it to the census data of each district.  

With the help of our Diversity Committee, this ambitious and exciting effort will culminate in a report to the State Bar House of Delegates, which we hope will raise public awareness and serve as a call to corrective action on the part of party leaders and appointing officials.

Advocacy efforts

The section also is increasing our presence in the halls of the state Legislature by advocating for more funding for the courts and promoting legislation to improve the justice system and the lives of our judges.  

We have had some success already with the passage of legislation (A. 8013) to redress “paper terrorism,” or attempts by so-called “sovereign citizens” to use false and malicious court filings to harass and intimidate judges and other public officials. 

This legislation increases the penalty for such filings and expedites the process to expunge them from the public record. 

Although the judiciary is a co-equal branch of government, its funding is only 1.5 percent of the state’s overall budget. As reliance on the state’s court system expands and caseloads increase, the Judicial Section and the State Bar must ensure that our courts are properly funded. 

This issue will be a major focus for the section during the upcoming legislative session.

Come join us

I’d like to thank all of our section members for their support, and pledge to continue our efforts to ensure that their membership is useful and rewarding. If you are, or have been, a judge or justice of any court of New York state, or a New York state resident who is or has been a judge or justice of a United States court, I invite you to join our section and be a part of our vital work to improve the court system and strengthen the judiciary. 

Visit www.nysba.org/membership to join online today. 

Kretser serves as an Albany City Criminal Court judge. She is presiding member of the Judicial Section.